I knew that the army had contacted the character references who Ethan had listed on his enlistment application but I was surprised to get a call last week from a man who identified himself as a “special investigator retained by the US office of personnel management.” He went onto say that he wanted to interview me about my son as part of a background check for Ethan’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) in army intelligence.

Although I didn’t say it, the thought that went through my mind was, “You’re interviewing his mother?! Aren’t parents the very definition of biased when it comes to their children? Don’t most think that their kids are absolutely wonderful – so much so that they are often blind to their child’s character flaws? How about all the interviews that air after someone commits some really horrible crime and the mom always says “what a nice young man he was” and how she could never believe he would do anything like that.

That said, the army has decades of experience evaluating young men so they must find it worthwhile to interview the moms or else they wouldn’t make the investment to do it. So in spite of being caught a little off guard, I replied that I was happy to answer any questions about Ethan. Any dirty secrets I know about Ethan have a lot more to do with dirty laundry than indiscretions.

Over the phone, I jumped right into it: “What can I tell you about him?” But the investigator said that he would prefer to conduct the interview in person and could we schedule a time to meet. He would be happy to meet where ever it was convenient for me. When I suggested a Starbucks, he said that would be fine but that we should sit at a table where no one could overhear us, just in case there happened to be someone within earshot who knew Ethan.

Wow, now we we’re getting into cloak-and-dagger territory. I was starting to feel like an extra in a Jason Bourne movie. I decided it would be simpler to ensure privacy by scheduling an early morning appointment at my office before anyone else would be there.

The investigator was about 10 minutes late for our appointment – good thing he wasn’t dropping off data that was crucial to national security – and we got started. He showed me his badge and then began asking questions to establish the timeline of Ethan’s life: when did he graduate from high school, when did he move out, what years was in college, where did he work, that sort of factual questioning.

It was a very thorough interview covering things I expected such as if he had ever been involved with law enforcement (i.e. did the police ever show up on our front doorstep) to some more unexpected questions such as how frequently we saw him after he moved out and his financial situation. Since Ethan doesn’t have any record of risky or illegal behavior, it was hard for me to discern if any of my answers were a red flag to the investigator. My hope was that I represented him as he is: very bright, eager-to-please, good at following orders, and excited about the opportunity to serve his country.

Later that afternoon, I got a call from one of our neighbors in our old neighborhood to let me know that she had been contacted by the special investigator who wanted to interview her about Ethan. This family wasn’t even our next door neighbors; they lived halfway down the block from us. Good thing he has nothing to hide…the long arm of the army is bound to uncover it.